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Olympic Ratings Were Bad, But Luckily NBC Still Made a Ton of Money

By Stephen Douglas
NBC Olympics Launches "Rings Across America" Tour Life-Size Set Of Iconic Olympic Rings At Universal
NBC Olympics Launches "Rings Across America" Tour Life-Size Set Of Iconic Olympic Rings At Universal / Amy Sussman/Getty Images
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The ratings for NBC's coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were down 42 percent from the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Only 150 million people watched NBC's Olympic coverage on television, which is the lowest total since 1988. If this sounds like a disaster for NBC or a reckoning for woke athletes, calm your pits, Becca.

NBC still made $1.2 billion in ad revenue. That's with apparently giving away some ad space for free because ratings were down. Less measurable to civilians, but certainly something NBC has a rough estimate of is how much free exposure they got for their Peacock streaming service. Even if they didn't hit whatever goals they set for the streamer, people now know it exists. Many probably did a free trial. A number of those people have already forgotten to cancel before being charged.

If NBC is happy with the number of new subscriptions, they'll probably give us a nice round number. If they're disappointed, we'll likely get a percentage. Either way, those people can now watch the Notre Dame home opener.

As for the shocking ratings numbers, NBC was in a tough spot. The games were happening on the other side of the world. They were trying to promote their app and save as much of the usual primetime fare like gymnastics, swimming and track no matter how long ago they happened. People knew what had happened and in some cases had already seen what happened. What did you expect?

That 13-hour time difference in 2021 is like an eternity. In 2016 the Rio games were basically happening on East Coast time. In 2024 the games will be held in Paris, which is six hours ahead (about the same as the London and Athens games) -- much friendlier for people trying to ignore results at work. Something happens after lunch and you can watch it on tape delay with teary features on the heroic American athletes after a few hours later if you want.

Plus, if NBC is still trying to figure out Peacock in 2024, they have much bigger problems than Olympic ratings. NBC will either have enough sports behind that paywall in 2024 that it will become essential for sports fans by then or the app will die trying.

Who knows what watching TV will be like three years from now. There could be a whole new streaming service that no one has even heard of by then. All other sports could just be shown on Twitter or Barstool by then. The only thing for certain is that the Olympics will be on NBC so they can put them wherever they want and viewers have to adapt. They just have to live with the ratings.

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